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Jul. 30 2010 — 11:27 am | 109 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Be Well, Do Good Work, and Keep in Touch

Since Michael is turning off the lights, I think it’s time I said my so-longs as well.

True/Slant has been a regular part of my life for almost a year.  I became familiar with the site when the fantastic journalist, Ryan Sager, asked me to site sit for him while he was on vacation. After a week of writing for his blog, Neuroworld, I was convinced that this was a place I wanted to stay.

What stoked me the most was the fresh thinking behind what Lewis Dvorkin and his team had started here: recruit great writers and give them the freedom to build their brands and drive traffic to the site.  I hadn’t seen this concept successfully employed at any other credible news site, but one taste and I knew it was for me.

In addition to Lewis, I want to thank Coates Bateman, Michael Roston, Andrea Spiegel and Steve McNally for making my time here truly a pleasure.  I sensed the dedication of this team from the beginning, and in the months since have only become more impressed with their passion and commitment. You folks started something quite special here and I hope you are proud of it.

As for me, I’m pleased to say this is a temporary goodbye.  As some T/S writers have already mentioned in their farewell posts, we’re not exactly sure what the next chapter will look like, but we’re looking forward to contributing to it.

In the meantime, you can always find me at my home base blog: Neuronarrative, and on Twitter @neuronarrative.

(the header for this post is a quote from Garrison Keillor, in case you were wondering)

Jul. 28 2010 — 11:52 am | 357 views | 0 recommendations | 9 comments

To Avoid Diabetes, Think like a Diabetic

Diabetes in the US

Image by GDS Digital via Flickr

Two things run strong and hard on both sides of my family: heart disease and type 2 diabetes. As a deluge of medical research tells us, the two are closely linked.  Often diabetes precedes heart disease, but in my family—particularly on my father’s side—it goes both ways.  My dad had his first heart attack when he was 48, but didn’t develop diabetes until about 10 years later.

The long and short of this is that I have to be careful.  My last blood glucose test revealed that I’m flirting with the pre-diabetic zone (defined as a blood glucose level between 100 and 124; 125 and up is considered diabetic).  So my doctor wisely directed me to consult with a dietician before the situation worsens.

I had my first consult a couple of months ago and received a docket of good advice touching both diet and exercise to rein in the sugar.  But the best advice was simply this: the best way to avoid diabetes is to think like a diabetic and act accordingly.

Basic as it sounds, I think this one-liner brilliant in its simplicity. People spend so much time fretting over the details of their diets, counting calories, reading the latest fad theories about what this or that nutrient does or doesn’t do.  How much better if we just start with what matters most: think differently.

I’m a little more in touch with this than some people because several of my family members have had diabetes and I know how they had to adjust their thinking and behavior to regulate their health.  But even if this isn’t true for you, it’s easy enough to find out. Once you do, it’s not necessarily essential that you perfectly copy the eating and exercise habits of a diabetic (though it may be, depending on your blood glucose situation), but at least get in the proverbial ballpark.

For me, it’s like this: cut way down on everything that is bleached, starchy and processed to the point of barely being food.  That includes white bread, white rice, most pasta, and any sort of processed potato or corn stuff. Those are the really difficult things for me (I’m Italian, after all, and we like our starchy carbs). Then there are the more obvious culprits: cookies, cake, candy.  Also hard, but I’ve found from past experience that once you’ve “de-hooked” yourself from those things for a few weeks, the cravings drop off.   Also take it easy on the juice.  I love juice (grape especially), but the problem is that the juicing process removes most of the fiber and leaves you with a whole lot of sugar.  And, goes without saying, stay away from soda, period.

What’s left?  Lean proteins, nuts, veggies, fruits (not juiced), yogurt (preferably Greek, and low-sugar), natural peanut butter, tea (unsweetened), lots of water, alcohol in moderation (2-3 drinks a week), whole wheat bread (I prefer pita), whole wheat pasta (occasionally), brown rice… You get the idea.   I know, this looks a lot like other diets, but the point here is that this isn’t really a diet. If you have diabetes, you’re not on a diet; you’re eating to maintain your health for the rest of your life.  That’s the way to think.

Throw in some modest exercise, and you’re there.  My latest favorite is swimming.  Just walking a few times a week will also do wonders.

What, so far, has thinking and acting like a diabetic done for me?  I’ve trimmed 16 pounds in less than two months.  Believe me, that was a hard fought 16 to lose, and I have many more to go, but I wouldn’t have lost an ounce without recalibrating my thinking. I have another blood glucose test coming up this month and hope to see a concomitant drop out of the red zone.

This is a topic I’m very close to. My dad died from the lethal combination of diabetes and heart disease, and I don’t plan on following suit.  If you have any questions about anything in this post, please feel free to tweet me @neuronarrative.

Jul. 27 2010 — 11:22 am | 129 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Back When Mickey Mouse was a Speed Freak

Mind Hacks recently ran a short post on the history of Mickey Mouse using amphetamines. As strange as it sounds, the notion wasn’t all that peculiar in the 1950s when anyone could buy legal speed over-the-counter, but still this little piece of cartoon history is remarkable. Vaughan gave me the thumbs up to repost here.

Drug information site Erowid recently posted a 1951 Disney comic where Mickey Mouse and Goofy take speed.

In the strip, ‘Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man’, Mickey and Goofy discover a new medicine called ‘Peppo’ which is clearly meant to represent amphetamine. Their enthusiasm for the chemical pick-me-up leads them to become salesman for the product in Africa.

Although the idea of Disney characters taking speed seems rather incongruous these days, in 1951 amphetamine was legal and widely available over-the-counter in America, mostly in the form of Benzedrine inhalers.

It wasn’t until the mid-60s when these were made prescription only and non-medical amphetamine wasn’t outlawed until 1971.

As well as casual racism, the strip also features various characters eating ‘hash’ which knocks them out.

For those not familiar with American English, this isn’t a direct reference to hashish or cannabis resin but a reference to a peculiarly unappetising type of food of the same name which, in the story, seems to have been spiked with some sort of unidentified sedative.

However, given the rather unenlightened portrayal of Africans in the piece and the 1950s stereotype of marijuana being a drug of black Americans, I wonder if the lethargy inducing properties of the ‘hash’ are meant to be an indirect reference to the drug.

Link to ‘Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man’.

Jul. 23 2010 — 9:38 am | 246 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The Periodic Table of Irrational Nonsense

This brilliant piece of work by Crispian Jago has been making its way around the Net, and I’m adding my endorsement.  Nicely done. (click on the image for full size)

HT: Why Evolution is True

Jul. 16 2010 — 10:36 pm | 3,078 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

How Many Red Bulls Would Kill You?

It is a picture of a fridge full of energy dri...

Image via Wikipedia

The folks at Energy Fiend have developed an online calculator called “Death by Caffeine” that tells you roughly how many Red Bulls, Monsters, Rock Stars, etc you’d have to drink to keel over.  The number of drinks you can choose from on the killer-drink drop down menu is staggering, but upon closer inspection it looks like they include regular sodas like Pepsi, Coke and the like along with the amped up drinks (and even energy mints and coffee ice cream).

I’m going to enter my information, choosing Red Bull as my initial poison. Here’s the result:

It would take 204.75 cans of Red Bull to put you down.


Gulp down 474.78 cans of Coca-Cola Classic and you’re history.

You could drink 297.82 cans of Mountain Dew before croaking.

It would take 109.20 cups of Starbucks Tall Caffe Americano to put you down.

If you eat 341.25 Cups of Haagen-Dazs Coffee Ice Cream, you’ll be pushing up daisies.

By the way (and I say this as a die-hard coffee drinker), imbibing caffeine to stay awake is one of the silliest things we humans do.  The reason is this: in the brain, caffeine acts as an antagonist (a blocker) of adenosine–the neurotransmitter that pushes us closer and closer to sleep until we nod off–and it’s very good at accomplishing this. The problem is that with less exposure to adenosine, we become even more sensitive to the neurotransmitter’s effects. If we reduce our intake of caffeine, or simply become more tolerant of it, we actually find ourselves becoming more tired. So then we jack up the caffeine to counteract the withdrawal, but that just increases our tolerance.

Takeaway: you can only fool your brain into not sleeping for so long before succumbing to the inevitable crash.

HT: MindHacks

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    About Me

    I’m a freelance writer, blogger and research wonk who writes about science, technology and the cultural ripples of both. Along my winding career route I've been a public outreach specialist, editor, research analyst, proposal writer and part-time journo. When I’m not writing for True/Slant, I’m blogging about neuroscience and a medley of ‘ologies’ at Neuronarrative.com, and writing freelance for Scientific American Mind.

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